Resources for writers

Book Covers SFOver my almost two decades of writing and (occasionally) publishing, I’ve learned some stuff. Lots of stuff, actually. Some of what I learned (such as a great place to buy a box for a manuscript) is out of date. However, there are some resources that budding writers should utilize that are still quite relevant, so here goes—

While a novel (or a short story or screen play) is still in the drafting stage, consider getting editorial help. Informally, there are many writer’s groups which offer support and critiques. If you live close enough, consider that as a first source of assistance and career development. I was once privileged to judge a short fiction contest held by the Northeast Georgia Writer’s Group, and all of the entries were quite worthy. The group is active, with contests and guest speakers. Many libraries sponsor such groups. There’s a great list of writer’s groups in Georgia at ReadersUnbound.com.

Depending on genre, there just may be a writer’s conference waiting for you. Such conferences usually feature guest speakers, workshops, and opportunities to meet with literary agents, who are the typical conduits between writers and publishers. I was fortunate to attend a few in nearby Athens (at the UGA campus) which was sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America, but there are a number of conferences, either general or targeting specific types of writing.

When the work is more or less complete, if there is no conventional publisher in the picture paying for it, an author seeking to self-publish or polish a manuscript for possible submission should really consider a paid editor. The Writer’s Digest magazine folks have an entire “store” devoted to such services. When I was working on my first novel, a publisher recommended that I go through a course with Writer’s Digest, and the experience taught me quite a lot about the value of editorial assistance.

Whether self-publishing a novel or developing a website and/or a social media publicity campaign, hiring a professional graphic artist is really important. For a web only publication, such as Kindle Direct, I might try the do it yourself method, but even then, it is good to use a site such as Canva.com. However, if there is any serious money going into the project, such as self-publishing in print or multiple platforms, then a cover artist is very helpful. Both The Gift Horse and the second edition of Trinity on Tylos have covers designed by an independent artist. There’s a list of cover artists over at The Creative Penn. By the way, I’d steer clear of Fiver. I tried that, and got nothing, not even a refund for my initial payment.

Once a book is in print or available as an eBook, most writers will want to help with marketing. This can be rather daunting for many writers. The publisher of The Gift Horse (Booklocker) has a companion site, Writer’s Weekly, which has some links to paying markets for shorter works, as well as articles about writing and marketing.

There are a lot of companies that offer “services” to authors. Be very careful to choose wisely, or money that should have been spent on editing and cover design will be frittered away on something else. While some of these resources have costs, others are cheap or even free. Regardless of how much money you spend, for a novelist the two most important resources are editing and cover design—in that order.

 

Why do writers need editors?

editing-apps-800x600Before you say, “Duh!” please remember that some people have lots of self-confidence. Others can crawl off into a mental state and ignore the world around them, which can be considered a skill in the writing biz, but conformity is comforting to readers. Other writers seem to think that the rules don’t apply to them, like ee cummings. A few insist on ignoring the red and green squiggles that the word processor uses to offer help in eliminating common mistakes. Writers suffer from any of those problems, or have other idiosyncrasies that make editing necessary. Yes, I considered dealing with editors to be something of a pain, because I am self confident and not afraid to break a few rules.

However, I have learned quite a lot from writing teachers and editors. Friends and family will offer a few tips, but if those friends really like you, brutal honesty is off the table. Sometimes the distance combined with authority that goes along with having an editor is transformative. My first novel was a hot mess when it finally got a full length reading at the micro press that ultimately put it through line editing. My second novel was better, but still needed a lot of work in the editorial phase, beginning at conceptual, then line by line, and finally, proofreading. At that time, WCP did not pay proofreaders, instead relying upon volunteers, which was a bad business decision. My work suffered from that lack, as a few errors made it into the printed work, and sales were less than optimal.

Publishers seldom take on a fiction manuscript that isn’t complete, which leaves out the project development phase. Once the novel is finished, most writers will attempt to put it into the hands of either an agent or a publisher. Problems with style or continuity may crop up at this stage, but if the work is compelling, those can be addressed. What most people consider editing is copy or line editing, which is a line by line examination of grammar, spelling, mechanics, and style. Any “big changes” in the manuscript probably occur at this stage. The back and forth over details can be annoying or even funny, but most problems in the work are solved at this phase. Once, an editor challenged me on a detail where I described a man wearing a glen plaid suit. I thought it descriptive, but she thought it was a weird description that no reader would understand. Ultimately, the description remained, but that is the kind of thing that comes up in line edits.

Before printing comes proofreading, when any style or content changes have been addressed—so what’s left is a last look at spelling, capital letters, and adjustments to make the page layout work. I remember the copy editor at Whiskey Creek Press had to substantially change one sentence to avoid a page with a single word on it, and I was okay with her changes.

A good editor makes printed work better—by questioning, suggesting changes, and insisting on being absolutely correct. Real editing makes the author’s work shine, without the distractions of mistakes or inconsistencies. Nowadays, many people think that word processors have made editors obsolete. Unfortunately, that is simply wrong, and writing is suffering mightily. Errors abound, and the solution is a great editor who reads and corrects. Technology is advancing, but it cannot replace editorial expertise.

Jersey Boys on Netflix

Jersey BoysLike many of you, we use services such as Netflix rather than having a traditional cable subscription. At times, we miss the old TV Guide magazine, which would guide the viewing experience. Instead, with Netflix, there is some algorithm that knows my husband likes shoot ’em up flix, so I am not always happy with the suggestions. However, a couple of days ago, I noticed “Jersey Boys”as an option in our feed. I’m embarrassed to say that hubby actually, “What’s that?” I simply said, “Click on it and you’ll see.”

Anyway, fortunately for me, hubby likes music, especially vintage pop, so he was eager to take a look at the movie version of this musical, which had a great run on Broadway, and is still touring around the country. Jersey Boys tells the story the Four Seasons, featuring the fabulous Frankie Valli. Surprisingly, the film version is directed by Clint Eastwood. The cast is really great, with Christopher Walken in a small but pivotal role, and it also has the original Valli from Broadway, John Lloyd Young as well as Erich Bergen, who has a supporting role in another show we’ve watched on Netflix, Madame Secretary.

There is much to like about this film, which is actually a 2014 release, but I was most impressed with the sound track. And, as is possible when watching a film in the comfort of home, I paused it and did some research, finding that the cast sang, rather than having it dubbed by either the original band or by hired musicians. Many of the hits from the Four Seasons are present, including “Sherry”, “December 63 (Oh What a Night)”, “Walk Like a Man”, and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Valli’s solo, “My Eyes Adored You” is also in the film, as are other familiar tunes.

Although not entirely happy, for this film follows the rise and the ultimate fall of The Four Seasons, we enjoyed this film quite a lot. If you are a Netflix subscriber, the movie version of Jersey Boys is a great way to spend an evening. Toe tapping is optional, but recommended!

Born with Teeth—A Memoir; review and commentary

Born Mulgrew

Kate Mulgrew’s Memoir

My guess is the first I heard of Kate Mulgrew was when she starred in Mrs. Columbo, but that’s not a certainty. Like many fans of all things Star Trek, I was both thrilled and a bit concerned when Mulgrew was very publicly named the newest captain in the fourth iteration of that television franchise, Star Trek Voyager. And, I was rather amazed to by her character in Orange is the New Black, in a role that is far from her roots as a distinctive and attractive leading lady.

Regardless of when one first noticed Kate Mulgrew, she is a force on the screen. Recently, I read her memoir, which has the curious title Born with Teeth. Apparently, she was indeed born with teeth, which were extracted so she could feed properly. For Mulgrew’s fans , there may not be all that much new information, but the style of her prose does illuminate readers on her perspective in regards to matters that matter most. The narrative is mostly linear, although she skips a lot of years and events. First, the reader learns just how dedicated she is to her craft and how much work it has been. Second, readers will become better acquainted with Kate’s large family, and see how they have influenced her. One of my favorite passages is when, as a schoolgirl, Kate invited her artist mother to hear her recitation of poems she had written. Upon learning about the program, Kate’s mom, Joan, gives her a copy of a poem (The White Cliffs of Dover) to read, and during the school program young Kate not only read her poems, but she read the classic poem so well that her audience was almost in tears. Afterward, Kate’s mom told her that she could either be a bad poet or a great actress. Apparently, Kate took those words to heart, because from that early age, she put all of her effort into becoming an actress.

Fans of Ryan’s Hope (a soap opera that was Kate’s first big break in television) or Star Trek Voyager (perhaps her most influential role) will find a few gems, but she doesn’t concentrate on those stints. Instead, what Mulgrew writes about is relationships. While filming Ryan’s Hope, Kate became pregnant, and as she was not married and quite young, she assumed she’s have to leave her job. Instead, the pregnancy was written into the show, and her character gave birth a few days after Kate did it in real life. The Mary Ryan character kept her baby, but Kate gave up her daughter for adoption. Later, she expends both time and money in an attempt to find her biological daughter, and that search is a focal point of the memoir.

Certainly, Mulgrew has experienced quite a lot of grief, as one of her sister’s died of a brain tumor and another succumbed to pneumonia. Romance has not always been easy, either. Mulgrew also writes of her loves—her first husband, Robert Egan, and the sons that he fathered, and how divorce affected her and the boys. Later, she reveals how her love for her second husband, Tim Hagan, endured a rather on again then off again period. The memoir ends as she meets her daughter and her relationship with Hagan finally settles into marriage.

I’m a science fiction fan (and writer) so I was just a tad disappointed in this memoir. I’d love it if Kate would do as Shatner has done and publish a book about her time portraying Captain Janeway. Perhaps she will, when she has more time, for she does seem to be one busy lady.

Trinity is Free for Three (days)

Beginning at midnight on July 14, the giant-sized internet seller of books and other sundries will be offering the eBook version of my science fiction novel, Trinity on Tylos, for free! I’ve seldom used this option, but as their Prime Day promotions will be going on, I thought I might get a few people to download it. If I’m really lucky, I might get another positive review, too. Anyway, here’s the book cover; just click for a link to the sale.

ToT_cover_final_webLG

Here’s an excerpt of my favorite review of the novel:

TRINITY ON TYLOS… is instead a thought-provoking book that will challenge one’s beliefs about the importance of motherhood, duty, and sacrifice. At times, the choices made by Venice and even Allie are ones the reader will disagree with and perhaps even be angered by them. However, one of the trademarks of a well-written novel is its ability to inspire others to debate. TRINITY ON TYLOS accomplishes this and so much more. Pamela J. Dodd has truly demonstrated her gift as a writer with this stunning book.” —

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher— brief review and commentary

DiaristI’ve met a few people who have never seen Star Wars or any of its prequels and sequels. Weird, huh? For me, when it premiered in 1977, it was the best science fiction film I’d ever seen, and to this day, it ranks among my favorites. The characters leapt off the screen and into the pop culture of the United States. Even those unfortunate folk who mistakenly believe the film has nothing for them are probably familiar with some of its tag lines, such as, “May the Force be with you.” Literary critics sometimes opine that writers can tap into themes that go far beyond what they, as writers, envisioned, and I do believe that George Lucas managed that with Star Wars. Much has been published about his source material, from Saturday morning serials to Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. Yes, the film has some flaws, but it gets a lot of things right, including setting, plot, and especially character. Casting a young Harrison Ford as the scoundrel Han Solo was a great choice, as was Sir Alec Guinness as Obi-wan Kenobi, and Mark Hamill certainly looks the part of a young man on a heroic quest. Perhaps the most controversial choice would be casting the very young Carrie Fisher as a princess, but who else could have blended innocence, sass, and strength the way Fisher did?

For some forty years, Fisher was both herself and Princess Leia. Video of interviews and even stage performances document how much the role influenced her career and her life. But, Fisher was also an able writer; indeed, she wrote multiple books and was often called upon to assist screen writers as a “script doctor.” Her last book, published shortly after her death, is a witty and poignant recollection of the filming of Star Wars, a three month interval that she documented via journaling.

The Princess Diarest includes both journal entries and some poetry, mostly about Fisher’s affair with co-star Harrison Ford. The framework, that is her introduction and conclusion, are far more interesting to me, as they benefit from the wisdom and perspective of those forty years after the filming of Star Wars. While the diary entries can be interesting, mostly they reflect the infatuation of youth. The framework, however, was fascinating, just like the author.

Some people never saw her performance in Star Wars, but it’s likely that they heard her voice, as she did quite a bit of voice work, or saw her in other roles. The world lost an icon when Fisher died in 2017. Her talents were many, but some roles can’t be left behind, and Princess Leia Organa was such a role.

Rebel Princess by Blair Bancroft

The title of this yarn isn’t particularly original, as it makes me think of Princess Leia, but the story doesn’t lean on Star Wars very much. As the book opens, with a war game going on, rather like Star Trek— The Wrath of Khan, I was wondering if the author was going to borrow heavily from that story, but not really. Actually, Bancroft uses lots of science fiction and fantasy elements, but this is theme and variation, then more variation. As a writer, a reader, and an occasional viewer of science fiction, I see this story as fairly original, and since there truly is “no new thing under the sun” that’s a complement.

Oh, there are some aspects of the story that I don’t like. Most of the “alien” characters have an odd apostrophe in their names. I’ve come to view that artifice as trite, as so many science fiction and fantasy writers employ it. There are times when the narrative drags a bit, and the author tends to use too many sentence fragments. Especially. At times of high emotion. Oh wow. Get it? And, at least half of the main players have two names, because some are masquerading as someone else, which can get a bit confusing. Indeed, the author has a list of terms on her website, just to explain some of what’s going on in the story. Mostly, I didn’t need that, but it was nice to take a look at them all to see if I had guessed correctly.

Still, this story has lots to like, including a heroine (Kass Kiolani) who is brave but not at all prone to throwing caution to the winds. Since she was brought up as a royal heir, she thinks everything through. The hero (Tal Rigel) is mostly heroic and a lot less cautious than Kass, but vulnerable enough to be likable. Minor characters tend to be stereotypical, but there is some character building, especially the main character’s brother, who has some interesting “gifts.” The world building is better than some novels in the romantic science fiction genre, perhaps because this is the first in a series of novels set in this universe.

Solo— a Star Wars Story

Solo posterOur son is a big time Star Wars fan, and he initially said he planned to skip this movie. Based on the box office stats, apparently a lot of folks felt the same way. However, a friend apparently convinced him to go see it, and he came back raving about how much better it is than Star Wars Episode VIII. Last evening, hubby and I went with him to our very small local theatre to see Solo- A Star Wars Story before it closes up and leaves for cable and the Red Box.

I did like it rather a lot. The cast is really great, from a decent likeness of the main character by Alden Ehrenreich to a fabulous supporting cast with veteran actors including Woody Harrelson and Paul Bettany, as well as modern favorites such as West World star Thandie Newton and Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke. The look and feel of the film, although a bit dark, is up to Disney and Star Wars standards, too. While I thought there was too much action (if such a thing is possible in a summertime blockbuster film) all of it was top notch.

For real fans of the series, there are some pluses and minuses of course. The film does a good job of filling in the small and big pieces of the original trilogy, especially those that occurred in the original film, Star Wars: A New Hope. Example: Han Solo proudly tells Obi Wan Kenobi that the Millennium Falcon made the Kessell run in 12 parsecs. How? When? And why was that important? Solo fills in all those blanks. How did Han and Chewy meet? Again, this film supplies some answers. Overall, the script writers (father and son Kasdan and Kasdan) performed a minor miracle in getting so much into two action packed hours.

Although I’ve read that it was a marketing problem, or a saturation problem—no one knows for sure why Star Wars fans have not embraced Solo. That’s too bad, because it is in many ways very similar to the much better received Rogue One: A Star Wars Story— it fills in blanks in the original film, gives us new characters to love and hate, and is a visual spectacle with a very good musical score.

Beat the summer heat and go see Solo—A Star Wars Story soon. Very soon, because it will be moving to video in a few short weeks.

Lincoln— the film


I’m not sure why we didn’t watch it when it was new, but hubby and I were perusing a list of the best films available for streaming on Netflix, and we chose to view Steven Spielberg’s ode to the controversial president. Gosh, there’s been so much written about this man. Historians can easily demonstrate how controversial and even unpopular Abraham Lincoln was during his lifetime, but since then his stature has ridden the waves of popularity, sometimes to heroic heights and then again to be mostly forgotten.

I’ve read some of the books and articles on Lincoln, but there’s many, many more that I haven’t. Still, the film version has much to offer viewers, regardless of their prior knowledge of the civil war era leader. For the two hours plus of runtime, the film focuses on the struggle to pass the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the one which prohibits slavery, except as punishment for criminal behavior. Daniel Day-Lewis does a remarkable job of portraying the title character. Sally Field is also very good as the mercurial Mary Lincoln, and the supporting cast is peppered with famous and talented actors. When we paused the streaming version for a pantry raid, hubby and I commented that it was as if the script had been tailored to showcase some aging but remarkable players, including Tommy Lee Jones and David Spader.

Mostly, this is a really good film, but the beginning, although dramatically effective, leads a well-read viewer to question its authenticity. The soldiers who quote from Lincoln’s now famous address at Gettysburg seem so sincere, but it is quite unlikely that war weary soldiers would know by memory that speech, as it was not considered to be much good when it was delivered. History has given those words their significance.

Although I don’t remember the source of the recommendation to watch this film, I, too, endorse it. While the outcomes are not really suspenseful, the film holds the viewer’s interest. No biopic is entirely historically accurate, of course, but the spirit of truth is certainly present. Watch (or re-watch) and enjoy!